A bill that would have given Iowa cities new protections against lawsuits over sledding accidents on city property hit a rough patch this afternoon. The bill failed on a tie vote in committee after some legislators, like Representative Jo Oldson of Des Moines, raised concerns.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop or start sledding, one way or another,” Oldson said. “And basically what it’s doing is transferring the liability back to an individual, most likely a child.”
Seventy-one-year-old Representative Dave Heaton of Mount Pleasant worried about the dangers of modern-day, high-speed sledding.
“I’m thinking of my old Coaster, you know, the one where you could steer it, but now when I see what they’re doing out there on this lake that we can cross out there in Clive, they’re on these discs, and spew!” Heaton said, making his own sound effect to indicate the speed of today’s sleds. “With that lack of control, all of a sudden I’m starting to say, ‘I don’t know whether I want to go this route.'”
But others, like Representative Chip Baltimore of Boone, suggested the bill was common sense.
“I cannot understand why any city or municipality should be responsible for and legally liable for a child that decides to get on a disc just because they want to tumble off of it,” Baltimore said.
And Baltimore argued the bill would prompt cities to make safety improvements to city-owned areas, like golf courses, which are open to sledding.
Another legislator, though, questioned whether there is a legal definition of sledding. Representative Chris Hagenow of Windsor Heights jokingly suggested it was akin to what a U.S. Supreme Court justice once said of pornography, that you know it when you see it.
“Among other things included but not limited to getting onto some sort of flat, slippery piece of equipment and heading down a hill that’s covered with snow,” Hagenow suggested.
The bill failed to pass the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-10 vote. The Iowa Association for Justice issued a statement celebrating the defeat.
“It is primarily children who use Iowa sledding hills,” said Andrew Mertens, a spokesman for the group. “They lack the capacity to safely evaluate risk or determine safety. Communities have a responsibility to minimize risk for our children and keep them safe. By stopping this proposal House members stood by their civic responsibility to protect Iowa children.”
(This post was updated at 11:30 p.m.)